The Bruins weren’t quite themselves Friday night. Not in mind, body, or spirit. There are many reasons for that, a few of them Black and Gold, as well as some Red and White. And with a Game 2 set for 3 p.m. Sunday at the Garden, they’ve got some fixin’ to do, or it’s a good bet their 2013-14 Presidents’ Trophy will become but an italicized line at the bottom of their obituary.
The place they must begin, double-runnered Freud fans, is inside their heads. Sometimes a game is just a game. The Bruins need to keep that in mind Sunday afternoon. As Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said even before the puck dropped in Game 1, “Settle down . . . just play.” His team did. The Bruins, not so much.
For the better part of 60 minutes Friday night, the Bruins were anything but a team loaded for bear. There was so much made about Detroit’s abundant speed leading up to the start of the best-of-seven series, it seemed the best-record-in-the-regular-season Bruins had surrendered a territorial advantage prior to the opening faceoff. In the words of Henny Youngman, “Take my puck, please!” And while you’re at it, here, take the first game of the series.
Back on one’s heels is a tough way to win any night, 82 games per NHL regular season. In the playoffs, it’s an E-ZPass to perdition.
Which is to say, by my eye, Winged Wheel speed did not kill the Bruins in Game 1 of the playoffs. It was more the preconceived notion of speed, which played right into the Red Wings’ hands and neutered the Bruins throughout the night.
Yes, Detroit is quick and nimble, but let me tell you, I’ve known the Flying Frenchmen, and the 2013-14 Detroit Red Wings are no Flying Frenchmen. Unless, of course, the Bruins look across the other half of the ice all night and conjur up the faces of Messrs. Lafleur, Cournoyer, Mondou, Tremblay, et al. If you think the other guy has a step on you, then he does.
Yes, the Red Wings have a speed advantage, but if speed were all that mattered, then some cutting-edge, analytics-driven NHL general manager would stock his roster with an Olympic short-track speedskating squad and: A. Save himself about $50 million in cap money, and B. Ready the Cup parade route. The ‘A’ would be guaranteed, the ‘B’ would be ridiculous.
The Bruins, their mind-set fixed that Detroit’s speed was too much to handle, spent the night like a bunch of flat-footed window shoppers, looking longingly through the glass, ready to purchase, the game never quite in their hands. The few times they appeared set to buy, they were denied entry to the store or they were essentially told, too bad, the model in the window wasn’t for sale. They landed a total 25 shots on net (one more than those blazing, too-fast-to-handle Red Wings), but few were of much value, and even fewer led to follow-up sustained pressure on goalie Jimmy Howard or even fewer to a second or third shot on net. One and done. At best.
Shift after shift, the Bruins were short on possession, presence, and patience. Give the Wings credit for that, too. But overall, the Bruins needed to display more faith in their game, one constructed all season on strong, confident, and physical play. Rarely, if ever, did they display that in Game 1. The Wings did not burn by them. The Wings did handle the puck very well in their end — better, in fact, than they handled it in Boston’s end — and that is where the Bruins will have to reestablish themselves in Game 2.
Now, that’s easier pointed out than it is implemented. To negate Detroit’s fine work and finesse back there, it will mean the Bruins increasing their possession, presence, and patience game. How to do that? With a faster forecheck, hand in hand with creating mismatches against Detroit’s defensemen, ideally by putting pucks into areas and fixing battles where Bruins forwards know they can regain those pucks and then do something with them — like, say, bring them to the net to create real, meaningful pressure on Howard. The ex-University of Maine goaltender saw far busier, hectic games in his Hockey East days.
“We didn’t have the puck enough,” said Bruins coach Claude Julien, when I asked if he felt his team ever really played the game we watched all season. “We’ve got to start putting pucks in areas where we get them back . . . and where we can hang on to [them]. I thought we didn’t play with the puck as much as we normally do.”
To bear that out:
■ Despite the tiny edge in shots on net (25-24), the Bruins were short on total shot attempts (54-42), nearly a 30 percent advantage for the Red Wings. That stat alone equates to overall possession and where the game was played. The action was too often in Boston’s end, even if Tuukka Rask didn’t have a much harder night overall than Howard.
■ One of the best faceoff teams in the league, the Bruins were edged at the dot, 24-20, with key contributors David Krejci and Carl Soderberg a weak-tea 5 for 16 (31 percent). Top draw man Patrice Bergeron, up against Pavel Datsyuk all night, essentially broke even in that match, winning 52 percent to Datsyuk’s 53 (the numbers include all their faceoffs, not just against each other).
■ Boston’s No. 1 line of Milan Lucic-Krejci-Jarome Iginla landed only four shots and attempted only two others. They were short of possession, constantly outfoxed to pucks, rarely any sort of factor. Datsyuk’s line, with Justin Abdelkader and Johan Franzen, landed six and attempted five more. One of those was Datsyuk’s winner, which came with Abdelkader playing fullback with a key charging block down the slot. Rask said he should have made the stop, but he had no view of Datsyuk’s snipe, thanks to Abdelkader’s bold, aggressive work in the middle that cut down Dougie Hamilton.
“We’ve got to make adjustments here,’’ said Julien, noting correctly that his squad picked up its play in the third period, in part when the new line of Justin Florek, Soderberg, and Loui Eriksson presented the Wings with coverage issues. “Hopefully, we have three periods more like the third.’’
All in all, hardly the way for the Bruins to begin what they hope is their third visit to the Cup Final in four years. Game 2 will show if they’re up to speed — not so much matching step for step with the Red Wings, but regaining the pace and method that put them ahead of the puck through 82 games.